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Coalitions could be part of ‘a good scenario’ solution for SA in its pursuit of a better future

Coalitions could be part of ‘a good scenario’ solution for SA in its pursuit of a better future
Professor Mills Soko. (Photo: Supplied) | Daily Maverick associate editor Ferial Haffajee. (Photo: Gallo Images / Destiny / Nick Boulton) | The Brenthurst Foundation research director Ray Hartley. (Photo: Supplied)

While coalitions in many municipalities continue to cause instability, Ray Hartley and Mills Soko argue that they can help guide the country towards a positive future if they draw on the strengths of various political parties.

As South Africa grapples with unstable coalitions in local and provincial governments, and with the 2024 general elections fast approaching, commentators believe a new political configuration and meritocracy is needed if the country is to change the status quo.    

Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation and Professor Mills Soko from the Wits Business School made the remarks during a Daily Maverick webinar hosted by associate editor Ferial Haffajee that explored different scenarios the country could pursue for a better future. 

While South Africans battle water cuts and rolling blackouts, a lack of structural reform, political instability brought about by coalition governments, and dwindling faith in the democratic process, Hartley and Soko believe not all is lost. Coalitions, they said, could be a part of the solution – or what they described as a good scenario. 

“We need to have a new political setup in SA. This country has been dominated by one political party since 1994. There are some things it has done very well, but it is very clear now that it’s incapable of running this country,” said Soko. 

“So, we need a political configuration, and it’s very good that we are moving away from one-party controlled government to one where power is shared among different parties, as we have seen in the 2016 local government elections and beyond.

“We need to have a government that consists of different political parties. That is an important precondition, to draw on the strengths of different political parties,” added Soko. 

In their new book, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Scenarios for South Africa’s Uncertain Future, Hartley, Soko and Greg Mills demonstrate the various routes the country could follow, and explore ways of attaining a better future.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Book extract: Scenarios for South Africa’s Uncertain Future 

Part of the “good” scenario includes the undertaking of structural reforms which have not materialised post-1994. 

These include economic reforms in the energy and investment sectors as well as maintenance of water infrastructure. Economic reform would also include the digital communications sector to reduce the cost of data and expand internet access to low-income households.

“That will not happen under the current setup, because we have a lack of political will … we have a lack of decisiveness, we are muddling along, we are limping along. So, we need a reformist government that will focus on these issues and build on assets that we have,” Soko said.   

Haffajee said she had looked closely at coalitions in cities and that meritocracy appeared to be declining in value across the political spectrum, while cadre deployment was on the rise.    

Probed on this, Soko stressed the need for leadership, good governance and meritocracy, which he said had borne fruit for countries such as China and Singapore.  

“There is no way that you can rise to the very top of the administration in China without the qualifications, the administrative experience, the proven track record … That cuts across local and provincial governments because it is something that is prized and valued,” he said.    

Daily Maverick readers who engaged with the webinar mostly agreed with the sentiments expressed by Soko and Hartley, but some had questions of their own.

One reader asked what South Africans could do in the meantime other than voting intelligently in next year’s elections. Responding to this, Hartley said there was a need to look at political parties and independent candidates through a different lens.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The mood in SA is one of disappointment — but a rebound is possible, future scenarios reveal 

“We need to start behaving in our own political space in a slightly more rational and less emotional manner. In other words, asking what is the outcome that is going to lead to the best growth for this country … This could apply in various instances, including voting for a ward councillor,” Hartley said.  

Ultimately, he said, the country needed to be prepared to take tough decisions. He referred to a “false” argument that is often advanced when making certain appointments in the context of transformation, which he said no longer held water. 

“You can transform the system 100% using meritocracy.”

Hartley argued that many professionals had graduated from university post-apartheid but were not in the civil service.  

“Why do they not want to be there? The answer is very clear. It is not a place that favours skills. It is a place that favours the political connections of the appointee,” added Hartley. DM

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